Health and Wellness

Chemicals in baby wipes, hand soap and nail polish may raise the risk of AUTISM and Multiple Sclerosis, scientists warn

Millions of Americans are potentially being exposed to brain-degrading chemicals in common household products that could increase the risk of autism. 

A new study in the journal Nature Neurology found personal care and cleaning items that contain two ingredients damage structures in the brain that protect nerve cells to help them function properly called oligodendrocytes, which play a role in neurological diseases like multiple sclerosis.

The chemicals can be found in nail polish, baby wipes, hand soaps, cleaning solutions, furniture, carpet, shampoo, sunscreen, body wash, disinfectant sprays, certain electronics and dryer sheets. 

Damage to the brain structures prevent nerve cells from properly communicating with one another and researchers said their findings could help determine if environmental factors are linked to chronic neurological conditions that cannot solely be attributed to genetics.

The team linked exposure to the chemicals to poor neurological outcomes in children in the US using urinalyses, history of exposure to the substances and reports of motor dysfunction and children who use special education services. 

The study’s principal investigator Paul Tesar said: ‘We now show that specific chemicals in consumer products can directly harm oligodendrocytes, representing a previously unrecognized risk factor for neurological disease.’ 

The chemicals, organophosphate flame retardants and quaternary ammonium compounds, are found in nail polish, baby wipes, hand soaps and cleaning solutions (stock image)

Researches analyzed more than 1,800 chemicals that people may be exposed to and identified two classes of chemicals that specifically targeted the brain structures: Organophosphate flame retardants (OFRs) and quaternary ammonium compounds (QACs). 

QACs are a type of chemical used to kill bacteria, viruses and mold. There are many kinds of these substances found in cleaning products and disinfectants often used in hospitals, daycare centers, homes and restaurants. 

OFRs are chemical additives that reduce the risk of fire and combustion in products. There are a multiple of types commonly used in building materials, fabrics and furniture, as well as electronics. 

Researchers from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine used biological samples from mice to determine that OFRs stunt the development of oligodendrocytes and QACs cause the structures to die. 

The team also used data from the CDC and the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey to identify levels of childhood exposure to the chemicals to determine associations between exposure and abnormal cognitive and motor development. 

They analyzed data from 2013 to 2018 on kids aged three to 11 years old and found a type of one OFRs was present in 99 percent – 1,753 – of urine samples. 

And the levels were significantly higher in children than in adults.  

The researchers said: ‘Neurological problems impact millions of people, but only a fraction of cases can be attributed to genetics alone, indicating that unknown environmental factors are important contributors to neurological disease.’

Lead author Erin Cohn added: ‘We found that oligodendrocytes — but not other brain cells—are surprisingly vulnerable to quaternary ammonium compounds and organophosphate flame retardants.

‘Understanding human exposure to these chemicals may help explain a missing link in how some neurological diseases arise.’ 

Autism affects one in 36 children, meaning that more than 90,000 children are born annually with the developmental disorder in the US.

It is characterized by problems with social communication and interaction, difficulty expressing oneself and repetitive behaviors and interests.

Scientists are still not completely sure what the cause of autism is, though they believe it is likely a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

The severity of the disorder also varies greatly across the spectrum, meaning there is likely no silver bullet treatment option.

MS is a chronic autoimmune disease that affects nearly 1million Americans. 

It can cause loss of balance, muscle spasms, vision and memory loss and impaired motor function. 

Some therapies may help control symptoms, but there is no cure. 

Based on their findings, the scientists stress more investigation into how these chemicals affect brain structures is needed, including tracking chemical levels in people’s brains to determine the amount and length of exposure to OFRs and QACs are needed to cause or exacerbate disease. 

Tesar said:  “Our findings suggest that more comprehensive scrutiny of the impacts of these common household chemicals on brain health is necessary.

‘We hope our work will contribute to informed decisions regarding regulatory measures or behavioral interventions to minimize chemical exposure and protect human health.”

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